Social and environmental resolutions comprised 40 percent of all shareholder proposals in 2011, according to a recent Ernst & Young report, up from 30 percent in 2010. Average voting support for these proposals was also up from 10 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2011.

Ernst & Young also found that the number of corporate responsibility resolutions to reach the critical threshold of 30 percent support—the level at which many boards begin to respond to shareholder proposals—had risen, improving from 2.6 percent in 2005 to 31.6 percent this proxy season.

“Companies that conduct financial and sustainability practices in silos could miss out on business opportunities and proactive risk management,” said Steve Starbuck, Ernst & Young’s Americas leader of climate change and sustainability services, in a statement. “Increasingly, a company’s sustainability story is being heard and read by the same stakeholders who read its annual report. Furthermore, the line between accounting records and sustainability records has begun to blur. These factors are creating a need for CFOs to incorporate sustainability thinking into their regular activities.”

In conjunction with these findings, Ernst & Young released another report, “How Sustainability Has Expanded the CFO’s Role,” listing five ways CFOs can build corporate value through sustainability.

The report suggests that CFOs:

•        Actively pursue sustainability and reporting program.

•        Ensure that those responsible for sustainability matters do not operate in isolation from the rest of the enterprise — especially the finance function.

•        Enhance dialogue with shareholders and improve disclosure in key areas, particularly those related to social and environmental issues.

•        Ensure that directors’ skills are relevant to the chief areas of stakeholder concern, including risk management tied to social and environmental matters.

•        Consider using nontraditional performance metrics, including those related to environmental/sustainability issues.

The 2011 Ernst & Young proxy season update on social and environmental resolutions is available here.


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